Founding of Santo Domingo, First European Settlement in Western Hemisphere

Before the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492, the Taíno people populated the island they called Quisqueya (mother of all lands) and Ayiti (land of high mountains), which Columbus named Hispaniola.

It includes the part now occupied by the Republic of Haiti. At the time, the island's territory consisted of five chiefdoms: Marién, Maguá, Maguana, Jaragua, and Higüey. These were ruled respectively by caciques (chiefs) Guacanagarix, Guarionex, Caonabo, Bohechío, and Cayacoa.

Dating to 1496, when the Spanish settled there, and officially to 5 August 1498, Santo Domingo is the oldest European city in America. Bartholomew Columbus founded the settlement and named it La Isabela, after the Queen of Spain Isabella I. It was later renamed "Santo Domingo", in honor of Saint Dominic.

Hispaniola, or Santo Domingo, as it became known under Spanish dominion, became the first outpost of the Spanish Empire. The initial expectations of plentiful and easily accessible gold reserves proved unfounded, but the island still became important as a seat of colonial administration, a starting point for conquests of other lands, and a laboratory to develop policies for governing new possessions. It was in Santo Domingo that the Spanish crown introduced the system of repartimiento, whereby peninsulares (Spanish-born persons residing in the New World) received large grants of land and the right to compel labor from the Indians who inhabited that land.